His smile was sunshine to my bleak day.
Every morning even as I woke before daybreak my day was already shining bright. Each morning I woke up next to you looking down at me smiling. Ibelema I always wondered how you did it, how you always managed to wake up just a few minutes before I did just to watch me wake up. What was it about me that you loved so much? What about me made you smile so lovingly at my tired face and weary eyes each day without fail? And all day I'd carry your sunshine with me everywhere I went, even in the darkest of moments and times when work threatened to break my back, a tiny smile always tugged at the side of my lips. Everytime people would question me; Ibiwari why can't you ever take anything seriously? What are you always smiling about? They wondered aloud and I would smile even more, further confusing them, further infuriating them. Nkiru was a 'victim' of my secret smiles.
"Sometimes I wonder if you're a little mad, you know" she once said
"Me? Why would you say that? That's not nice NK, what have I done to give you that impression?"
"The boss just scolded you, he even hinted at a salary cut and you're still smiling like a retard!"
"Nkiru, this your mouth ehn... Anyway I'm happy."
"What could you possibly be happy about? If it was I who was scolded that way I'd be crying my eyes out under my desk and you're here smiling like a simpleton".
"Babe I don't expect you to understand. You see when someone loves you just as much as Ibelema loves me, it would take a volcanic eruption to wipe this smile off your face".
"Hia! So it's Ibelema that's doing this? The sex must be very good o!" She chuckled mischievously.
"You'd think so abi? But that's the beautiful part. We're not having sex, we decided to wait. Actually it was my idea but he doesn't mind".
"What! What kind of man will willingly accept not to have sex with a woman he supposedly loves? You better check that man, he might be gay, or getting it elsewhere"
"Hahahahaha. Nk! He's not and I'm certain of it. You see, he loves me and he thinks I'm worth the wait".
Yes, you always said I was worth the wait. My friends thought I was naive or delusional to believe that you were keeping yourself for me just like I was keeping myself for you. Their noise became so much that I did something I'd promised I would not do; I questioned you.
"IB... Typical woman! I just can't win with you, can I?", you asked.
"Honey what do you mean? I'm just... I just... It's just.."
"It's nothing, my heartbeat. Look I'm a red blooded man with blood running through my veins. Every night there's a fight within me to restrain myself from grabbing you and tearing your clothes to shreds and ravaging this devastatingly beautiful body of yours" you said, holding me tightly by the waist, your eyes filled with lust and burning desire.
"I want you. Lord, how I want you! ....But my love I'm willing to wait, I love you so much. You're like a perfect gift and there's nothing I won't do to keep you. You may not understand it, I don't understand it either. All I know is that I love you; the good, the bad, the amazing and the intolerable. You're the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, I don't ever want to lose you IB, never. The day you stop being a part of my life is the day I cease to live. I want you. Forever."
"This sounds like a proposal. Is this a proposal?" I asked laughing, of course it wasn't.
"Yes it is. Marry me Ibiwari. Make me complete, make me whole, make me the happiest man on the face of this earth". With your knees on the ground you looked up at me, your eyes; two deep pools of love in its purest form. How could I say anything but Yes?
I sit hidden in a far corner, dressed in all black, my black hat has got a little veil to hide my face, to cover the tears that won't stop flowing, to conceal the deadened look in my eyes. I look like I'm at a funeral but that shouldn't come as a surprise, I'm indeed mourning. Something in me has died. I'm mourning the love we once shared.
What happened to your promises? What happened to your unconditional love? What happened to your life ending when I'm no longer a part of it? What happened to loving me; good, bad, amazing and intolerable? I guess that insurance policy does not cover HIV?
Did you ever even love me? A month to our wedding when the HIV test result came back positive my heart wept, yet my spirit stood strong and my secret smile was unwavering, because you'd said you loved the whole of me, unconditionally. Yet the way your eyes went blank and cold told of a different story. Till now I have nightmares of that moment and the days that followed; you varnishing from town for weeks, your phones switched off and no word from you.
I told myself you needed sometime to process it and I convinced myself you'll be back. But then your people came to see my people and returned the dowry. It was then I knew I may have lost you forever.
I sit at the farthest corner of the last pew and I look at you. I squint and I try to see your eyes. Are they as happy and alive as they were when you were with me? I look to your bride. She looks truly happy, I'd never seen her look so happy before; that kind of happiness that comes with feeling like the most precious petal on God's green earth, that kind of happiness that comes with being loved by you, Ibelema. Nkiru never looked so happy.
Just before the vows are exchanged I get up to leave, I fear I might drown in my tears if I actually have to watch you make those vows to my friend Nkiru, those vows were meant for me! So I drag my weary body off the pew and away from you.
Ibelema if you had chopped my flesh in little bits and fed it to vultures it would still have hurt less than the pain I feel.
But God does give beauty for ashes. If I heard "your own will come" one more time I may have gouged out someone's eyes, but look, my own indeed came! It may have taken longer than I expected, it may not have been who I had expected, yet he came. My own man, the one who loves imperfect me perfectly. He is the most amazing man God created and when I said to him "I'm HIV positive", without flinching he said "You seem not to know what I mean when I say I love you. I love you means I love you wholly; no exceptions, no conditions. We will get through this together".
I write this from my hospital bed Ibelema. We had our beautiful and perfectly healthy son, Adokiye, two days ago. The nurses keep walking in on me grinning to myself and wondering about me. They will not understand, they don't know the peace and joy I feel. I may have lost my secret smile but guess what, I got open laughter in return. And NO, dear Ibelema HIV is not a death sentence.
*The one who loves you will love your imperfections perfectly*.